New owner has big plans to breathe life back into B&I
By Jackie Fender
For nearly 70 years, South Tacoma staple the B&I Public Marketplace has served as an iconic landmark. Its quaint beginnings led to major expansions over the decades, resulting in a labyrinth-like journey of delights that once included an arcade and the home of Ivan the gorilla. Sadly, in mid-August of 2017 this quirky retail space was forced to close its doors, leaving many with a pang of mourning and questions swirling around whether this was an end of an era.
The closure was due to a laundry list of public safety hazards identified by West Pierce Fire and Rescue. Attempts were made to contact the building owners for months, working to both identify and alleviate these concerns that included everything from minor violations like moving or building walls without permits and inspections to more serious hazards like unsound structures, deficiencies in fire protection and dangerous electrical wiring throughout. The space that was once a thriving destination was dilapidated and oft forgotten.
Enter Special Situations Manager Charles Shin to the rescue. “We are looking to take the space in a new direction with some ideas being implemented,” he said, noting that he’s pushing for the restoration of the space and is looking to partner with some non-profit organizations moving forward. He continues, “We want to bring back the tradition of the B&I. Right now, there is the same environment and vibe but we are looking to invest into the long-term value of the brand.”
In the meantime, 59 retailers are back in action at B&I slinging their diverse selection of wares. It’s a compelling one-stop shopping adventure for anyone looking for vintage coins, a large area rug for the dining room, a wig to revamp one’s look, a pair of fabulous cowboy boots, accessories for a smart phone and games for all of the customers’ gaming systems, including a Super Nintendo. To add to the journey, B&I boasts a food court teeming with international eats including gyros, ice cream, Mexican and Asian fare and more.
Plus, though not yet open, the arcade is anticipated to be back in action shortly. Bill Masterson, known for his arcade industry expertise, is aiding in the revitalization of the arcade. Shin says of Masterson, “He’s such an interesting guy. He had a full-blown arcade enterprise by high school.”
With the revitalization of B&I aiming to craft a space centered around quality family time and rejuvenating the energy and history of the space once known as “the circus store,” the arcade and merry-go-round are vital components.
Many locals have apparently received the memo, as consumers are already meandering through the halls to spy the wares. Will B&I become the space full of life and laughter that it once was? Only time will tell.